ELLs and Math

  Math is a language.  It has grammar with expressions, verbs, and sentences.  For example, a+b=c.  There are many ways that we can assist ELLs in acquiring mathematical language.  Suggestions are outlined in Cirillo, Richardson Bruna, and Herbel-Eisenmann’s 2010 article in the journal Multicultural Perspectives (http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/title~content=t775653675~db=all).  As standards increasingly require students to explain their mathematical thinking in writing and orally, teachers need ways to help all of their students- especially English Learners- gain mathematical language.  The authors’ work suggests:

1. Find out if math symbols in other countries are different than in the US and clear up any confusion with a chart on the classroom wall.

2. Be careful to point out the difference between English homophomes like sine and sign.

3. Teach mathematical vocabulary and pronunciation like + is “plus.”  Students can compile and add to an illustrated personal dictionary of math terms and examples on index cards with a hole-punched corner connected with a metal Acco ring.

4. Partner ELLs with bilingual speakers to assist with translation when needed.  Or use small groups where students will be more likely to practice oral math language than compared to in front of the whole class.

5. Help students understand math vocabulary by talking about word origins and roots such as para-, geo- etc. to help them remember their meanings and make cross-linguistic comparisons. (Here’s a nice list of math vocabulary definitions http://www.capitan.k12.nm.us/teachers/shearerk/vocabulary_abc.htm)

6. Use visual representations (e.g. drawings, powerpoint images, clip art) and manipulatives (e.g. blocks, containers, cubes etc.) to represent the concepts and vocabulary. (Here’s a link to math clip art http://school.discoveryeducation.com/clipart/category/math1.html)

7. Partner transcription is a way to help students see the relationship between oral math language and written mathematical symbols (Rubenstein & Thompson, 2001).  One student reads reads a mathematical sentence (e.g. a plus c equals c) while the other writes it down in symbols (a+b=c).

8. Play Jeopardy using mathematical facts and formulas which will help students practice oral match language.  They can also respond on a whiteboard for written responses. (Check out http://jeopardylabs.com/all/ to make an online jeopardy game.)

Also check out Dr. Nicki’s Guided Math Blog for more ideas and lots of resources (http://guidedmath.wordpress.com/)

This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 20th, 2010 at 5:39 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


Scott Shoemate
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